Saddle up and ride around Barcelona
BARCELONA has a magic ring to it.
The gui de books pr omised us a plethora of architectural delights. The Costa Brava also seemed an attractive cycle-touring destination.
Inland, the old railway lines had been torn up to allow for mountain biking routes. These have a gentle incline, making them ideal for cycling, as we’d previously found out on a tour of Britain’s Peak District.
We packed our mountain bikes since we would be cycling with the younger generation. Our son and his wife were entering Spain from the north after touring, complete with camping gear and mountain bikes, so we planned to cycle up the Costa Brava to meet them.
At the airport after our 17-hour flight, we maneuvered our bikes and bags through customs then l ugged them onto the train into Barcelona.
At the Sants taxi rank we loaded the bikes into a station wagon and were soon at the hotel.
Our first outing was on the funicular, the first leg of the trip up Montjuic.
The r ack t r ai n t r avels above t he apartment blocks to exit at the lower station of the an aerial cableway
Views from the were splendid but from the Castell de Montjuic on top, the views were quite spectacular. I could not help comparing Barcelona with Cape Town. We’d already noted prominent similarities on the flight in – a port city simmering in sunshine, the port overlooked by this vi ewpoint, and t he whole ci t y s urrounded by mountains.
From our viewpoint on the castle’s fortifications, the working harbour complex stretched out below all the way to the airport.
From the northern Castell walls, we gazed across the city to make out the parks we’d read about and there was t he must-s e e c a t hedral of t he Sagrada Familia.
With such a prominent position, Montjuic and the Castell played a pivotal role throughout the history of this city. I was fascinated by the artillery – massive cannons still in place I could clamber over.
Although ostensibly to defend the port, in the 1840s these cannons had fired on “insurgents” – probably just disgruntled citizens rioting in the streets below.
About 460 houses had been destroyed, and as recently as 1940, President Lluis Companys was executed in this castle.
We learnt that the fight for the independence of Catalonia involved this castle, and now I began to understand the graffiti, “Catalunya is not Spain”.
Later, as we headed north from Barcelona, we encountered more and more of the Catalan language in menus and timetables, disconcerting to the tourist relying on the Castilian Spanish phrase book!
As the light faded, we set off down- hill on foot, since we now knew our way home. Roads and pathways zi gzag d o wn , a f f o r d i n g v i e ws o f t h e o l d harbour with its own cableway. The relatively ancient harbour cableway, the Transbordador Aeri, provided a different access to Montjuic.
And here you can forgive us Capetonians for being confused, accustomed a s w e a r e t o o u r o n l y c a b l e w a y. Barcelona makes maximum use of these cableways to provide tourists with stunning views, thereby showcasing the city in a variety of ways.
Montjuic was cleaned up when the city fathers put in their Olympic bid. With their success, one side of the hill complex was turned into the Olympic city for which Barcelona is now famous. That night, following a tip in the
guide, we discovered what was to be our “regular”, a tiny booth in the wall on a square close to our hotel, which served good, wholesome food. What more could travel-weary tourists want than no queuing, rapid service and a plate full of no-nonsense grub. La Solea provided all this in a pleasant little plaza where children came out to run around and grannies sat quietly, nodding off.
We headed out before the crowds, on foot through the maze of streets forming the Barri Gotic, neighbourhood to the Sagrada Familia, the famous Church of the Holy Family.
We avoided t he t empting si ghts along the way. Even so, the queue went around the corner.
We also learnt it was a good idea to buy the ticket that included a ride in the lift up one of the structure’s narrow towers.
We crammed into the rickety lift and soared for a seemingly endless ride.
At the top we needed to hold onto the walls, trying bravely to suppress the vertigo as we looked out over the city. Looking across to other towers with their attendant cranes – still in the process of being built – brought home to us the unusual situation this building finds itself in.
All other European cathedrals have long since been completed. Not so the Sagrada Familia, and probably not for another 40 or 50 years.
A visit to the museum in the basement helped to explain the complexity of Gaudí’s role in it, and why it would all take so long to complete
Our walk back through the Barri Gotic led us into the area of the Roman buildings. The Romans founded the small town which they named Barcino, and fortified it with massive walls, which are still visible but incorporated into modern buildings.
Back at the coast, we made for the Torre de Sant Sebastia, the tower that is t he s t art of t he Transbordador Aeri cableway up to Montjuic.
The cableway, completed in 1929, runs from the Torre de Sant Sebastia on the main jetty, across the harbour to the Torre de Jaume I on another jetty and, from there, up to Avinguda Miramar on Montjuic.
The cable car was a wooden affair, unchanged after decades of use, but it afforded us a bird’s eye view of t he yacht marina.
We had bagged two breathtaking cableway rides in two days. We wondered how Cape Town can compete for tourists with its one cableway.
The next day, before the city awoke, I cycled in the direction of the beach for a swim.
The city beaches had undergone a massive clean-up and I could happily swim right at the harbour wall, leaving my bike safely on the beach.
On the way back to the hotel, the traffic had increased and I had to obey the rules and stick to the cycle lanes.
On our street, Avda Parallel, designated cycle lanes separated cyclists from road traffic and we had our own stoplights.
On my early Sunday morning cycle to the beach, I had to weave my way through throngs of young folk dressed in skimpy evening attire. These all-night revellers were emerging from the night clubs along Avda Parallel. Barcelona’s night clubs are well known throughout Europe.
With free time, we set out to find another restaurant recommended in the guide books. Even though we’d highlighted a number in proximity, we came up empty handed. They were either closed on Sunday, or only opened at 9.30pm.
On our final day we discovered the reason for the long queue at the iconic Les Quinze Nits restaurant – folk were queuing to enter at opening time. Our 20 minutes spent queuing ensured us a delicious meal impeccably served at a very reasonable price.
Cycling in Barcelona proved to be much safer than the guide books made out. Perhaps t hey were comparing Barcelona t o other European citi es. Even icy Copenhagen is well known for its cycle friendliness – an experience which we have enjoyed
Barcelona revels in sports. Parks, works of art and statues remind me of the glory of the 1992 Olympic games.
Flights: We choose KLM from previous experiences with bicycles. You have to check airlines’ websites for their charges.
Initially KLM were going to add 80 per bike per flight, but fortunately the airline dropped this charge. However, we had to take a print-out to c onvi nc e t he Cape To wn c hec k - i n counter of this update.
Transport of bike: Depending on the v a l u e o f t h e b i k e a n d t h e a i r l i n e ’s requirements, one can: Dismantle and pack the bike in a bike box obtainable (free) from a bike shop; Partially dismantle and pack the bike in a bike bag or bike case (bought from a bike shop); or Bubble-wrap the exposed parts (the bubble wrap service at the airport will do this at a price). A c c o m m o d a t i o n : Tw o - a n d three-star hotels are great. Our Hotel Paralel-lel cost 97 for the double room a night plus 19 for breakfast for two.
Visas: South Africa citizens have to apply for a Shengen visa.
Drinks: Half tinto (500ml red wine) costs 6.50.
Meals: A substantial meal for two hungry cyclists, including half tinto and delicious ice cream costs 60.50.